MCCAIN: BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A RUBLE?…. Some campaigns just don’t have good timing. Today, the McCain campaign decided to cast aspersions on the Obama campaign’s extraordinary fundraising success, referencing “secret donations” and “illegitimate money.”

Now, as a substantive matter, McCain aides whining that Obama has more donors than McCain seems like a rather pointless exercise. There’s nothing “secret” or “illegitimate” about Obama’s contributions — every dollar is reported, and donors who meet the legal threshold are disclosed. McCain should be familiar with these rules, since he helped write them. (McCain wants Obama to itemize every donor, including small donors. The Obama campaign has said there are too many of them to make this feasible.)

But more importantly, the same afternoon McCain aides were complaining about Obama’s fundraising success, we also learn that the McCain campaign sought illegal contributions from the Russian ambassador to the United Nations.

The Russian Mission to the United Nations issued a bizarre statement to the UN press corps today stating simply, “We have received a letter from Senator John McCain requesting financial contribution to his Presidential campaign. In this connection we would like to reiterate that Russian officials, the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations or the Russian Government do not finance political activity in foreign countries.”

Intrigued, I called the Russian Mission and a press officer there directed me to this item on the Mission’s website. It seems that the McCain-Palin campaign sent a generic fundraising letter to Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly I Churkin.

Accepting foreign money is, of course, against the law. The McCain campaign was, in effect, asking the Russian ambassador for an illegal campaign contribution.

Now, in fairness, this was almost certainly the result of some kind of innocent mix-up. Churkin received a generic email solicitation, probably by accident. Russian officials don’t believe the McCain campaign was deliberately asking for an illegal donation. Ruslan Bakhtin, press secretary of the Russian mission, told Ben Smith, “We just find it amusing.” As do I.

I’m curious, though. If the Obama campaign had inadvertently sought illegal campaign contributions from a Russian official, do you suppose the McCain campaign and Fox News might raise a fuss?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.